Pubdate: Sun, 08 Jun 2003 Source: Ventura County Star (CA) Copyright: 2003, The E.W. Scripps Co. Contact: http://www.staronline.com/ Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/479 Author: Thomas D. Elias Bookmark: http://www.mapinc.org/decrim.htm (Decrim/Legalization) Bookmark: http://www.mapinc.org/pot.htm (Cannabis) Bookmark: http://www.mapinc.org/mmj.htm (Cannabis - Medicinal) Bookmark: http://www.mapinc.org/find?115 (Cannabis - California) Bookmark: http://www.mapinc.org/bush.htm (Bush, George) Bookmark: http://www.mapinc.org/mjcn.htm (Cannabis - Canada) Bookmark: http://www.mapinc.org/mmjcn.htm (Cannabis - Medicinal -Canada) Note: Thomas D. Elias is the author of "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government's Campaign to Squelch It." FUGITIVE SLAVE ACT USED IN ARGUMENTS AGAINST POT LAW There was bound to be a backlash against the spate of actions by the Bush administration against the will of California's voting majority, ranging from challenges to the state's ability to set its own smog standard to a steady undermining of the 1996 Proposition 215, which aimed to legalize medical marijuana. The reaction has begun. Predictably, the first moves against Bush policies come from two areas that have long been among the state's most freewheeling and left-leaning, Santa Cruz County and the city of Arcata on the north coast. In Arcata, local action aims at the federal Patriot Act, which has never been used in that city. Passed in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on New York City and the Pentagon, the law allows many forms of surveillance and permits indefinite custody on vague anti-terror grounds. It even requires bookstore owners and librarians to hand over information on patrons' reading habits on demand. Arcata, which has long had a "foreign policy" featuring City Council resolutions against global warming and the invasion of Iraq, this spring forbade its top nine city officials from complying voluntarily with any federal request for information on citizens under the Patriot Act. The penalty: a $57 fine for each offense. The only exceptions would be if officials first asked the City Council's permission to comply with requests from federal authorities. The ban on voluntary action made Arcata unique among scores of cities and counties around America that have formally protested what they see as infringements on individual liberty contained in the 342-page Patriot Act. Santa Cruz County took a unique action of its own. Already out front in the battle over medical marijuana because of its sponsorship of a cooperative and its distribution of the weed to medical users from the steps of City Hall last year, the county has filed a lawsuit seeking to halt all federal raids on local users of medical marijuana and those who grow plants for them. No locality has ever won a court order preventing federal agents from enforcing federal law in its jurisdiction. Plenty have tried. Southern states and cities wanted to stave off Reconstruction policies giving former slaves the right to vote. Northern cities, counties and states tried to avoid sending runaway slaves back to their owners under terms of the Fugitive Slave Act during the 1850s. The federal government often backed off when the locals made their strong feelings clear, but federal law eventually won out in every case until it was changed. Are there parallels between the refusal of many cities and states to comply with the Fugitive Slave Act and the refusal of Santa Cruz County to comply with federal laws that make even the medical use of marijuana illegal? One parallel, of course, is that Canada's laws are the opposite of America's today, as they were then. Slavery was illegal in Canada 150 years ago, and medical use of marijuana is sanctioned there now. The other parallel: As medical marijuana users and supporters see it, both issues involve life and death. Runaway slaves knew their lives and not just their freedom were forfeited if they were returned. Some medical marijuana users insist pot is all that keeps them alive today, while others say they need the weed to make life bearable in the face of AIDS, some forms of cancer and other ailments. "There is federal case law that says there is a fundamental constitutional right to control the circumstances of your own death," says Gerald Uelmen, the Santa Clara University law professor representing Santa Cruz and several cancer patients who use marijuana. "No one claims marijuana cures anything, but it is a palliative relieving the side effects of other treatments on patients in this lawsuit." So Uelmen believes he has a chance eventually to win at the Supreme Court level and set a precedent for many other cities, counties and states across the country. And he thinks the case is stronger than any presented 150 years ago against the Fugitive Slave Act. Even now, some counties refuse to capture and try users and growers of medical marijuana, just as many northern locales refused to capture and return fugitive slaves. But where slavery had interstate commerce implications that may have at least legally justified federal action, no such factor is apparent with the medical use of marijuana. "We're talking about activity that is all very local here, and activity that goes on with local government approval," Uelmen said. But odds are the Santa Cruz County lawsuit will fail, as did legal efforts to skirt enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act. Still, as the practice becomes more common and accepted, the likelihood increases for a change in the law. One bill before Congress would curb federal power over medical marijuana use in states that have voted to legalize it, as California did with Proposition 215. Another would simply declare federal policy invalid in those states. Neither bill stands much chance of passage today, and with no cataclysm in the apparent offing to change the political climate, as the Civil War did to the Fugitive Slave Act, future prospects are uncertain at best. Yet, the Santa Cruz lawsuit and the Arcata law both are shots across the bow of the Bush administration. Both actions tell federal officials there are local governments vehemently opposed to what they are doing. With an election year coming up, it's for sure the administration will be testing the wind to see how widespread those feelings have become.